Thursday, November 12, 2009

Der Dresdner Zwinger

[ The Zwinger Palace of Dresden ]

Augustus the Strong – then the elector of Saxony – made a grand tour through France and Italy in the late 1600’s before returning to Dresden and solidified his election to become King of Poland. During Augustus' visits to France, King Louis XIV had also completed moving the French royal court to the palace of Versailles, and Augustus fancied a spectacular royal grounds for himself as well.

This led to the construction of Der Dresdner Zwinger – The Zwinger – an enormous and beautiful fortress and one of the most important pieces of Baroque architecture in Germany.

Like the Frauenkirche, the Zwinger was largely destroyed during the fire-bombings of ’45 [ but the art collections were evacuated to safety]. The people of the city were able to vote and overpower the plans to use the land for architecture of socialist realism in the former GDR to ensure the structure would be rebuilt.

Today, the fortress is a marvel of rebuilt architecture and is utilized as a huge museum. The Zwinger has a beautiful courtyard and grounds that were used for royal engagements where we were told exotic fruits were brought to the palace for extravagant parties with music popular in the times.

The luxuriousness of the palace was very exciting and it had beautiful corners at every turn. I can only imagine how pretty it must be in the spring and summer when the fountains are flowing and the grounds are covered with the colors of the gardens.

The moat and gate of the palace is famously adorned by a huge crown over the archway.

As part of our weekend activities, we all received passes to the museum and had an entire afternoon to spend there. Filled with masterpieces from France, Germany, Italy and other European nations ranging from the renaissance to modern art, the Zwinger is one of the highlights of cultural life in Dresden.

[ Unique perspective of Dresden centuries ago when the Frauenkirche was the most prominent building in the skyline ]

Within the museum I was able to witness works of Canaletto and Raphael and found myself becoming absorbed in reading the side plaques in German and English grasping the opportunity to see so many fantastic images, and read their stories in German only using the English when I needed a crutch [ or if it was even available!]

The treasure of the museum is Raphael’s Italian High Renaissance work The Sistine Madonna. This painting, locked away by Hitler during WW2 and eventually finding its way to Russia after the war and vaulted by Stalin now hangs back in Dresden. It was believed to be a decoration for the tomb of Pope Julius II.

The famous work shows the virgin Mary in a holy realm with St. Sixtus and Barbara at her sides creating an image of a descending Mary over our Earthly realm.

Possibly most famous in the painting are the two observing Cherubs at the bottom of the scene that have been replicated in modern times, especially during the holiday seasons.

The museum also had interesting modern art exhibits, including Georg Baselitz’s Women of Dresden.

This exhibit featured modern art interpretations about the citizens of Dresden, mainly women, after the catastrophic bombings that took place throughout the city. Being modern art, it was difficult to interpret, but with some background information about the artist, the art began to take on a more profound meaning.

It is true that time and the zeitgeist predominate, but an artist must endeavor to escape from that zeitgeist. What I have never been able to escape is Germany and the fact of being German. It is a fact that unpleasantly clings to you, whether you like it or not. I have realized that no matter how beautiful your pictures are, you cannot dissociate yourself from this, even by emigrating. That is just the way it is. The consequence for me, with regard to my work, was that I ultimately gave up dissociating myself from it. I have completely immersed myself in this matter of being German - and I continue to do so today.

Georg Baselitz

Speech at the Albertina, 2007 [ quote was the introduction to the exhibit ]

The artist portrayed the inner struggle of the German psyche after the war, and the difficult journey it was to represent the nation, and himself as a citizen of the country. It was an interesting exhibit to see, especially with so many thoughts about German reconstruction and reunification this weekend, and a lot to ponder about as I walked through other halls filled with other incredible works in European history.


[ The Church of Our Lady ]

As mentioned previously, the Hofkirche, a huge church located right on Theaterplatz, was the project started under August the Strong since, as a monarch connected to Poland, he had to be of Roman Catholic faith. At the time, Dresden was almost predominantly Lutheran, and almost contemporaneously, the citizens of the city collaborated to build the Frauenkirche – The Church of Our Lady – a protestant church with one of the largest dome cupolas in northern Europe standing at 96 meters tall.

This church dominated the Dresden skyline for almost 200 years and became one of the most symbolic buildings in the entire city of Dresden.

When I first encountered the building on the walking tour, I was in awe staring up at the curving, ornate sides of the Church’s base up to its impressive sandstone bell.

A closer look at the sides of the building, and one is able to visually see the history that the building represents. Scattered amongst the beige and yellow sandstone bricks are rectangular specks of charcoal colored stone which were from the original construction of the Church.

In the 1945 bombings, the Frauenkirche remained standing for almost two days with its side pillars keeping it stable and suitable as a safe-haven for citizens of the city. Unfortunately after two days of withstanding the relentless bombing, due to heat, the church finally collapsed.

It was hard to imagine, but the beautiful church that stood before us had only been officially consecrated 4 years earlier in 2005. During Soviet domination in Germany and a communist East German state, there was no movements to reconstruct the church, and in fact, the church rubble remained as a remembrance site – often scattered with roses – for over 40 years.

In 1989, after the reunification, reconstruction projects finally started taking action, and with support of many nations from around the world, the church was rebuilt.

The weekend of the tour was very appropriate to witness and experience this history since the Monday following the weekend commemorated the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany. The church was a reminder of just how recent these huge changes in Germany really were.

Returning to the charcoal bricks speckled into the architecture – they were the original pieces from the Frauenkirche and were archived and replaced in their original spots in the remake. Their charred color came from years of oxidization and chemical reaction from rain on the Sandstone [ from the local region of Germany ] and eventually garnered a dark grey patina.

The locals of Dresden like to refer to the symbolism of the old and new stones in the church, since it is said that in 50 – 100 years, the sandstone of the new church will also chemically transform into having a dark grey appearance.

The symbolism represents the stark, new church showing the great struggle to rebuild the church after its destruction, but as time moves on and the towers all once again blend together, so to should the terrible memories of war. The church symbolizes the catastrophes of war, but also the ideal to learn from the past, and not necessarily forget, but find the ability to move forward.

On Saturday some friends and I, some that I had met from the weeks prior, many new ranging from France to Poland to Italy, all together decided to spend the early afternoon experiencing the church. At noon there was the daily mass, and for the first time that I have experienced it in Germany, the church was actually full – not only full, but there was a cue out the door to get into the mass.

The inside of the church was also grand, with several levels for people to sit. Once the mass started, the organ notes penetrated through the church, and it truly was an incredible experience – one even bringing some to tears.

Leaving the church, the market square was absolutely full of people – completely opposite from the day before. It was a little chilly, and with stands already preparing things for Christmas – albeit a little early for me as an American [its not even Thanksgiving yet!] – the entire setting, with the beautiful square, grand church, commotion of people, cafĂ©’s, warm cups of hot chocolate, and red ribbons wrapped on traditional Christmas cakes, I was already getting the warm feelings of Christmas.

The perfect timing of this historical weekend in Germany, seeing the church and learning about its incredible past, and being a part of the exciting crowds in the square, Dresden had swooned me already – the city was unique and special, beautiful, and unlike any other in Germany, yet it still captured an exhilarating German spirit.

[ Possibly for the historic weekend representing German reunification, there were firework displays over the river at night. We coincidentally were crossing the bridge and had an incredible opportunity to see the fireworks over the skyline and river! ]